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December 2, 2016 5:56 am

‘Blatant Antisemitism’ Behind Boycott by Anti-Israel Campus Groups of Vote on Holocaust Education Week at Ryerson U, Jewish Students Say

avatar by Lea Speyer and Rachel Frommer

Ryerson University in Toronto. Photo:

Ryerson University in Toronto. Photo:

A staged walkout on Tuesday during a session to discuss instituting “Holocaust Education Week” at Ryerson University in Toronto was an act of blatant antisemitism and “one step away from denial” of the Nazi genocide, Jewish students in attendance told The Algemeiner.

Tamar Lyons, a vice president at campus advocacy group Students Supporting Israel (SSI) and a StandWithUs Emerson Fellow, called the response to the initiative on the part of members of the school’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Muslim Student Association (MSA) chapters  — who snickered, heckled and then exited the premises en masse  — a “shameful, agenda-driven” effort to pervert one of the greatest tragedies in history.

“The Holocaust is not controversial, and this motion had absolutely nothing to do with Israel,” Lyons said.

In a recording obtained by The Algemeiner, voices identified as belonging to leaders of SJP are heard discussing a plan to disrupt the meeting and protest the motion on the basis of its ostensible relationship to Zionism.

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One man is heard saying that though he is “totally fine” with having a Holocaust Awareness Week on campus, he is against the “people promoting it,” because they “are from a pro-Zionist foundation. So we want to vote that motion down.”

Samantha Cooper, the author of the motion, told The Algemeiner that though a first draft had called for the rejection of anti-Zionist propaganda and included mention of their intention to seek UJA Federation assistance, it was edited ahead of the vote to be “very clearly, very carefully worded, so that it was not political.” 

The final version of the motion presented at the Ryerson Student Union (RSU) forum, she said, called for education about the value of “pluralism and the acceptance of diversity,” making no mention of Israel, Zionism or even Jews. “It did not include any language about specific religions, ethnicities or places of origin. It was entirely apolitical. Yet, something that should be entirely educational and uncontroversial was politicized. That’s antisemitism.”

Lyons told The Algemeiner that when heads of the MSA and SJP groups realized they had no anti-Israel grounds for opposing the resolution, “They coerced every one of their members to walk out of the room,” using hand signals and text messages to do so.

According to Ryerson Hillel member Aedan O’Connor, MSA and SJP leaders were patrolling the hallway outside the meeting space — even blocking the doors to a nearby bathroom — to ensure that none of their adherents returned to the room.

As a result, the meeting lost the quorum — a minimum of 100 students — necessary to vote on or amend any motion, and the RSU forum had to adjourn. As a result, the Holocaust education motion was shelved.

Atara Shields, a journalism student who attended the meeting, told The Algemeiner that there is no other explanation for what happened other than “blatant” bigotry and said student groups who usually try to distinguish between anti-Israelism and Jew-hatred “didn’t attempt to sugarcoat or hide their antisemitism.”

Lyons told The Algemeiner that, before the quorum was lost, “while I was standing in line to vote, I was aggressively told by the president of the MSA and vice president of SJP to ‘sit down because there are too many of you.’ I am known as a vice president of SSI and I was wearing my Star of David necklace. When I called them out on their comment, they brushed it off.”

Now she is demanding that these student leaders “be held accountable.”

Mariam Nouser, president of the MSA, told The Algemeiner, “I do not hold the authority to tell what folks should and shouldn’t do…and it cannot be assumed that people who left early were members of the same community.”

SJP did not respond to The Algemeiner’s request for comment.

O’Connor told The Algemeiner that this incident is but one example of the environment on campus characterized by apathy or outright anti-Jewish sentiment. “We say, ‘Never again; never forget,’ but we have allowed the world to forget,” she said.

In a statement responding to Tuesday evening’s events, the RSU apologized for “not being able to get through all the motions” — without addressing the allegations of antisemitism — and said that initiatives like the proposed Holocaust Education Week can “invoke many views.”

Speaking to The Algemeiner before the statement was issued, RSU president Obaid Ullah said that emotions can get elevated on “both sides.” Ullah added that the RSU “works to create safe spaces for all,” and said he could not confirm that “people leaving were from any group or left for any specific reason.”

Jewish students slammed the RSU’s official statement on Facebook as “repugnant.”

Denise O’Neil Green, assistant vice president of Ryerson’s department of equity, diversity and inclusion, did not respond to The Algemeiner‘s request for comment.

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